It’s Monday. Your day starts with a 9am one to one catch up, immediately followed by another meeting at 10am. You meant to block out some time to work on a report at 11:30am but someone has dropped a meeting in to your Outlook and you feel under pressure to attend. Before you know, it’s 14:30pm. You shove some food down and just about manage to get on to your 14:45pm meeting by 3pm, apologising for being late. That meeting overruns so the 16:30 team meeting you were supposed to lead is late starting. It looks like you won’t get through the agenda until after 6pm and meanwhile your inbox is full to bursting and your To Do list is into its 3rd page. It’s only Monday.
Does this sound like your every day at the moment? To us it sounds utterly depressing. Our clients are telling us this is becoming the norm of the working week, so let’s consider why this might be.
Ever since the majority of us have been working away from our colleagues and clients, our meeting load has become meeting overload. In the office, what could be done as a chat across the desk or enroute to the kitchen, is now a 15-minute exchange on Slack or Teams. What would have been a get together and a useful conversation over coffee is now a full-blown Zoom meeting. What would have been a monthly team meeting now happens fortnightly because you’re worried about people feeling isolated. In the office, it was also perfectly fine to pop to the loo, grab a coffee or check your email before your next meeting – and let people know that’s what you were doing. It is much harder to convey this remotely, without appearing rude or tardy. Yet we still need those little breaks.
Our days have become so full of meetings, none of us is getting any work done. It’s fine if meetings are your work, but for most, meetings result in actions and there is no time to implement them. Add to that the now accepted practice of scheduling meetings without a gap between one ending and the next starting – and it’s a recipe for fatigue and frustration.
Let’s nip this one in the bud before it tucks itself snugly in to our work culture. Here are three ways to get off the meeting conveyor belt and restore communal gatherings virtual or otherwise, to events you look forward to.
- Ask “Why?” more often. Why is this meeting taking place? Why should attendees care that they are there? And why does whatever you’re having the meeting for need to be done at a meeting? If you have sound answers to all these questions, give the meeting the green light. If you don’t, consider whether the purpose can be achieved in another way.
- Scan the Attendee List – do you have the right people at the meeting? They’re the right people if they can add something to the conversation and are responsible for at least some of the actions that result. There are exceptions to this but in the main, meetings don’t need observers or extras. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos has a novel way of keeping the numbers down. He says: “We try to create teams that are no larger than can be fed by two pizzas. We call that the two-pizza team rule.” This avoids too many people at meetings. Elon Musk’s approach is even more radical. He encourages people to leave a meeting if they are not adding any value. That certainly focusses the mind of the participant, but it also makes you question if you’re the right person to be occupying the square on the screen.
- And this is the big one. Instigate the 15-minute rule to meeting scheduling. That is, you don’t allow meetings to be scheduled back to back. There must be a 15-minute gap. And if that sounds all too reasonable, why not go for 30 minutes which is even better, but we accept may not be realistic sometimes. It needs to be agreed across teams and adhered to. When you think about it, it makes total sense. You want to arrive at a meeting with the right mind-set – focussed on the impending agenda, not the recently departed one. People need breathing space (not to mention coffee and comfort!) to give their best, so give them a break.
And while we’re talking about scheduling, if you do have a report to work on at 11.30, that is a meeting of sorts. A meeting with yourself and the report – so give it an appointment in your diary which prevents others slotting in yet another meeting.
Those are our top 3 tips for tackling meeting overload, and we have more tips too. If you’d like to speak to us about how you build a meeting culture which inspires energy and commitment without the song and dance, we’d love to hear from you. We could even book a meeting to talk about it. But not until at least 15 minutes after your previous meeting.